Sunday, November 25, 2012

The girl who shoots food

Ninety-nine per cent of the time, I take food photographs on my window sill.

I draw up the curtains and shoot right in front of the kitchen window so that I can have plenty of natural light. This is Holland after all where there's not a lot of sunlight, especially during late autumn and winter, so I need to get as close to the source as I can.

I've become a constant light chaser, always having to schedule the day and time of shooting depending on the weather report. Of course, the fact that I only have a five-year old point-and-shoot camera and not some fancy DSLR with all the trimmings, isn't making it easier on me. I love a challenge however, so I choose to view it as such and try to do the best with what I've got.

Having to take pictures in front of my large kitchen window also means that I get to meet my neighbors, who always seem to stare at me wondering what the heck I'm photographing all the time. Then of course they catch a glimpse of me licking my fingers or a spoon, moving around in the kitchen, back and forth, pan in one hand, camera in the other and they get the picture. Around the neighborhood, I'm known as the girl who shoots food. Sometimes I feel like asking them to join me, come eat with us, but I'm too shy to do that.

I'm not too shy to invite all of you to cook this dish and share it with your guests though. Penne with mascarpone and walnuts. A wonderfully simple dish yet oh so flavorful.

Penne is one of my favorite types of pasta and the mascarpone, well, that is a brilliant Italian invention which may conjure up images of tiramisù rather than pasta, but let me assure you, the pairing is fabulous. The penne, cooked al dente of course, along with the silky smooth and slightly sweet mascarpone sauce, a handful of crunchy walnuts and a sprinkling of salty parmesan, make up a glorious dish, perfect for a chilly winter's evening.

Penne with Mascarpone, Walnuts and Parmesan
Adapted, ever-so-slightly, from At Elizabeth David's Table

The sauce is rather filling so don't go overboard. Small portions served with a fresh green salad and a glass of white wine will make an ideal dinner for four.

Yield: 4 main-course servings

450-500 g dried small penne rigate
2 heaped Tbsp unsalted butter
250 g mascarpone cheese
3-4 Tbsp grated parmesan, plus more for serving
80 g (3/4 cup) walnuts, chopped roughly
Freshly ground white pepper

Special equipment: colander, cheese grater

Bring a large pot of water to the boil over high heat and add a good sprinkling of salt, followed by the penne. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard), or cook to your liking, stirring every so often so the penne don't stick together.

Five to ten minutes before the penne are cooked, prepare the sauce.
In a large and deep skillet, add the butter and melt over medium-high heat. Then add the mascarpone and turn heat down to low. Stir the mascarpone until it melts and combines with the butter into a creamy sauce. Be careful not to boil the mascarpone, you just need to heat it well through.

Once the penne are cooked, drain them in a colander and immediately add them to the mascarpone sauce. Stir them around and add the parmesan and some freshly ground white pepper. Have a taste to check if the dish needs any salt. The parmesan is very salty so I'll doubt it'll need any. Stir well and serve immediately in individual plates or in a large serving bowl.

Add some chopped walnuts on top of each serving and make sure to keep the parmesan at the table for anyone who needs to add an extra grating on top.


  1. Looking at these photos (I love penne) I wanted to make that next! I have just about all the ingredients and mascarpone can be substituted with another cheese if I don't find it in the village in the mountain where I spend the weekends; I think your photos are pro, and I would never guess that you have such a simple setup; light in Holland may be sparse, but it is very white and crisp.

  2. This looks delicious and cool about your point and click! I have a point and click (if that isn't already obvious) and you gave a good reminder to get as close to natural light as possible. Gonna pick up some mascarpone next time I'm at the store and make this - I've always got penne in the cupboard!

  3. You are right: the best way to photograph food is with natural light. And it is easy to take bad pictures with a DSLR. You do a great job with the photos! The light is fleeting lately, though, and it is only going to get worse in the next few weeks. Good luck with it... if you are inspired, I think some traditional Greek Christmas bread/cookies would be awesome to learn how to make.

  4. Your dish not only looks great but sounds delicious. I take all my photos at night and don't have the luxury of natural daylight.

  5. Well, it goes to show. I never would have thought you use a point and shoot, I love your pictures.
    You really should invite one of your neighbors over... you never know how that little step could change your life.

  6. I recognise so much of myself in this post. I think about light for photos all the time and in Berlin, I used to take pictures of food on my window sill, prompting strange looks from the neighbours. It doesn't matter about not having an SLR because you have such a great eye and I love your photos. You also have the prettiest plates and at barely 10am, I'm already dreaming of dinner and this recipe! I share your passion for penne.

  7. Magda - this is so simply, yet simultaneously so elegant! What a treat this will be for friends and neighbors in my 'hood... I, too, photograph on the windowsill - even though I live in the desert with more than ample sunlight, our homes are built to shade us well, and the windowsill is my friend. Oh, and I love your blue-purple plate. Gorgeous....

  8. tasteofbeirut — yes, the wuality of the light is very good, when it graces us with its presence. Thank you Joumana!

    Banana Wonder — I couldn't tell from your photographs that you have a point-and-shoot, Anna. They're great!

    Meredith Graham — natural light is key, even if one has an awful camera. yes, some Greek Christmas cookies are on the schedule :)

    Karen (Back Road Journal) — i couldn't take photos at night even if I wanted to. My camera cannot handle that!

    Nuts about food — thank so much! I know some of them and actually a couple of them have become friends of ours, as for the rest, perhaps one day...!

    Emily — thank you so much Emily for your kind words about my photos. Especially coming from you who take amazing photos, it's a huge compliment. I'm not complaining, my photos are nice, what I don't like is the fact that they are not as crisp as I'd like them to be. I'm thrilled you like the dish, and my plates. :)

    Cocoa and Lavender — the light in your photos David is amazing, it has that desert glow. The plate seems to be a hit! :)

  9. oo what a lovely pasta dish! sounds so comforting for winter time...i have that light problem too! living in the northwest of the US, it rains...often. and now in winter, it sometimes feels like the sun doesn't come up at all! oh well, the price we pay i guess. :)

  10. Well, you are doing a great job with `just´a simple DSLR, your photos have a serenity and elegancy that at least I do appreciate. And for the pasta, I think is perfect for these season.

  11. Fantastic post. Food photography is definitely an under appreciated art!

  12. a. maren — though we live so far away, we share the same problems :)

    Heidi Leon Monges — I don't have a DSLR, I have a point-and-shoot. One day though...!

    ahu — I suppose you're right. There are so many talented people out there doing an amazing job!